can you write a book with your spouse and not end up in divorce court?
My husband, John, and I are often asked that question now that our
first cowritten novel, Echoes of Titanic, has
finally been released. Most folks might rank such an endeavor right up
there with getting joint root canals, but I’m here to say that not only
can a marriage survive the writing of a novel, it can downright thrive
from it. It just takes some ground rules, lots of love, and maybe a
More on that snowstorm in a bit.
I should start by explaining our
particular situation. Echoes of Titanic is my
eighteenth published book; it is my husband’s first. I’m a full-time
writer; he’s a CPA and an attorney who works in the Christian nonprofit
field. Our collaborating on a novel was a combination of the right
people on the right project at the right time.
Though not a writer himself,
John has amazing skills in story crafting, brainstorming, problem
solving, pacing, and more. Must be the lawyer side of his brain at
work. He’s always been a tremendous help to me with each of my books,
so much so that I’ve sometimes felt like his name should be on the
cover next to mine.When my publisher approached me about doing a
Titanic-related novel, I knew the time had come for John to be not just
my helper but my coauthor. Because he has been a lifelong Titanic
buff, his full involvement would be integral to the success of this
Of course, the journey from that
initial impulse to a completed work was filled with joys and
challenges. But coauthoring with my husband ended up being a wonderful
experience, one that allowed me to view the writing process with new
eyes and taught me some valuable lessons about writing—and
relationships. In that light, for anyone else who might be considering
the same sort of project, I present here John and Mindy’s Eight Rules
1. Separate Work from
Life. Given the life that most writers lead—working from
home, setting their own schedules, staying mentally connected with the
project even during “off” hours—it’s often difficult to establish the
necessary boundaries between work time and leisure time. Throw in a
spouse who’s also a writer, and you’ve got two people in the same
household facing the same challenge, which makes it twice as difficult.
That’s why it’s vitally important that you never allow your coauthoring
project to become all-consuming. Even if it’s the most fun you’ve ever
had, be sure take time for work, then put that aside and take time for
2. In matters of ego
versus story, story wins. I learned this lesson from my first
coauthor, Leslie Gould, who likes to say, “It’s all about the story.”
Opinions will differ between even the most harmoneous of coauthors, and
frustrations inevitably crop up during any book-writing process. But if
differing opinions are always settled with an eye toward what’s best
for the book, rather than what’s best for the person, then everyone
wins in the end.
With a spouse, especially if
you’ve raised children together, this shouldn’t be all that hard to do.
Applying that mentality to the book-writing process as well, it’s
easier to toss all matters of ego out the window and ask yourself,
What’s best for the book? Then do that.
3. Accept that
passionate debate is good for a book—as long as it begins and ends
there. It’s a common belief that spouses simply can’t
coauthor without hurting the marriage in the process. I’ve never shared
that belief, and I was so determined to prove it wrong that I entered
into this project with the intention of never arguing at all. What I
didn’t realize, however, was that there’s a difference between arguing
and debating—and that there’s nothing wrong with passionate debate when
cowriting a book.
With Echoes of Titanic,
however, we discussed and debated so many elements along the way that
by the end, our first draft was more like a final draft. The story was
strong because we’d had to fight for it every step of the way. The key
was in not allowing those fights to follow us to the dinner table or
the bedroom or anywhere else once the work day was done.
4. Early on, designate
who has the final say in what. Throughout the book-writing
process, John deferred to me for most writing-related decisions, such
as how to show rather than tell or when to reveal and when to hold
back. These are techiniques I have been honing for many years.
In turn, I deferred to him for
most story-related decisions, such as where the characters went and
what they did and said, and why. Not only is he especially gifted at
plotting, but the storyline for this book was his baby.
Designating who’s the boss of
what—and making sure the division is fairly equal—shows respect for
each other’s strengths and makes use of their best skills and
knowledge. It can also go a long way in helping to keep the peace.
Prepare for your loved ones, even the dog, to feel ignored.
John and I have always “tag-teamed” through life, picking up each
other’s slack whenever one of us faces something that requires extra
attention. When I’m on a book deadline, he can be found doing more than
his share of housekeeping and kid tending. I do the same in return when
he’s dealing with some big project or issue at the office. Thankfully
we didn’t try to cowrite while our two daughters were still living at
the unmopped floors, the
empty fridge, and the unreturned phone calls, someone did pay the price
for our neglegence: our dog Belle, who got so tired of being ignored
that she finally starting laying herself across my computer keyboard
and whimpering until I gave her some undivided attention. Once we added
dog-walking story conferences into our day, we solved that problem.
6. Bathe the project in
prayer, beginning to end. Prayer is always an important part
of marriage, but we found it to be especially so during the cowriting
process. Praying over this book helped us to keep our priorities
straight and our perspectives in line. Seeking God’s direction for our
story made the process much smoother, and the core themes and spiritual
truths we wanted to convey with our tale became much more evident as we
surrendered our efforts to His will.
7. Give each other lots
of affection and affirmation. Writing is an emotional
process; only by tapping into our deepest feelings can we show truth on
the page. The rejection and exposure of being a published author brings
in even more vulnerability.
When just one spouse experiences
these things, the other can show a little extra tender love and care as
needed. But when both spouses are going through the same things at the
same time, who’s left to do the comforting?
8. Take time to play.
Who had time to play? We had a book due, much of it still to be
written, and a clock that wouldn’t stop ticking.
Then came the freak snowstorm of
October 2011. We were at our house up in the Pocono Mountains of
Pennsylvania when the snow started falling. We kept on working, but
once a foot and a half of white stuff piled up outside, the power
flickered and then all was lost. Short of pencil and paper, the modern
writer can’t do much once the laptop battery dies.
So we went outside. For the
first time in days, we simply played. We laughed, we made snowmen, and
in a wonderful burst of inspiration, we even staged a fabulous Titanic-related
photo, as shown.
When the lights came back on and
we got back to work, we found that the brief break had done wonders—for
our physical well-being, of course, but also for our morale and our
creativity! Thank goodness this lesson was forced upon us: Take time to
play. You and your book will be better for it.
In a way, writing this novel
together was kind of like having a baby. The process took about nine
months, and after much anticipation—not to mention a little anxiety—we
finally held the new arrival in our hands. Gazing at it lovingly, we
marveled at God’s faithfulness and the ways we had grown together as a
couple during the process. Sadly, however, just as with our real
children, as much as we loved this book and the time we’d been given
with it, the point had come to send it out into the world. We had to
set it free. What happened to it next was no longer under our control.
What’s a parent to do? We began
buy consoling ourselves with the knowledge that we have a pretty good
track record. Our two daughters, both in college now, have grown into
amazing young women. If our book does just one-hundredth as well, it’ll
be a huge hit. Thus, as we have done with our kids, we’ve had to say of
this novel, “We did our best and trust God with the rest.”
Divorce court? No way! Writing
with my spouse was one of the most exciting, rewarding, and challenging
things I’ve ever done. It was so rewarding, in fact, that we’ve already
decided that once we get our home back in shape and our dog sufficently
loved, we just might be ready to do it all over again.